A Role Of Bees in The Secret Life of Bees Novel
A Worker Bee Within
Often hidden from even the most trusted of friends and family, secrets provide a certain mystery around an individual. Honey bees, in way, participate in the circle of life in a similar manner, their ways and cycles are kept for some time unknown. In the novel, The Secret Life of Bees, author Sue Monk Kidd connects the behaviors of honey bees to the maturation process of the protagonist, Lily. Based on the her experiences, Lily is often equated with a worker bee, and the epigraphs in the novel support the idea that her trials and successes link in some way to a bee’s life. In a way, Lily’s loss, burden, and necessity for a motherly figure shines through the mysterious ways of bees.
It is a strange phenomena to behold when a bee colony loses its queen bee. They often lay about lazily in a trance-like state, then grow to be chaotically unsettled, and ultimately die. This is because the queen bee’s presence is a vital necessity among worker bees, and only with her do the bees function properly, “The queen, for her part , is the unifying force of the community. If she is removed from the hive, the workers very quickly sense her absence. After a few hours…they show unmistakable signs of queenlessness,” (Kidd 1). Lily’s struggle with her mother’s abandonment mirrors the concept of the bees’ behavior. Contemplating the true story behind her mother’s tragedy, Lily falls into deep distress in finding out the truth about her mother, “’The truth is, your mother ran off and left you. The day she died, she’d come back to get her things, that’s all. You can hate me all you want, but she’s the one who left you,” (39). For some time, her only source of an account of her mother’s death was T. Ray, but his violent input on the matter never satisfies Lily’s doubts and questions. Just like how a worker bee becomes helpless without its queen, so too is Lily without her mother.
Lacking any tangible proof of her mother’s love for her, Lily searches for the truth of her mother’s abandonment. In doing so, she fatefully ends up at the Boatwright sisters’ doorstep. They ask of her origins, which stirs Lily to generate false accounts of Rosaleen and herself. Although her lies are “accepted,” Lily does not approve of her dishonesty; and each secret she hides from them adds more weight on her shoulders to bear, “…I had myself a good cry. I couldn’t even say why. Just everything…because I hated lying to August when she was so good to me,” (123). Lily finds it difficult to sleep at night, wondering how to approach August about her mother. But without a proper way for her to ask, she constantly holds back her thoughts. With constant conflict within herself, the questions of when and how to ask August remain unanswered. This burden that she carries for quite some time reflects the natural strength of a bee, “A worker bee…weighs only about sixty milligrams; nevertheless, she can fly with a load heavier than herself,” (257). A bee bears a load heavier than itself the way Lily bears the weight of her secrets. However, Lily is not a bee. Eventually the weight of her burden becomes “heavier than her,” and Lily’s strength to conceal the truth finally fails. Nonetheless, when her strength does fail, August is there to understand and answer all her questions, thereby relieving her burden. Both Lily and a worker bee both carry burdens heavier than they, but it is only Lily who can finally let go of her load.
Without her mother, Lily becomes unguided and unsure of herself. Without the fortitude to reveal the truth, Lily becomes burdened with lies. However, these two elements of Lily’s life only branch out of Lily’s main obstacle in life, her own loss. It is her loss in which Lily has so many problems. A bee, in a way, has an advantage over Lily. After so much burden and loss of the queen, the bee just dies. Lily has to live and cope through her journey in life, having no mother and all the burden. However, Lily has an advantage over a bee. Lily can overcome her loss and move on, “A queenless colony is a pitiful and melancholy community…without intervention, the colony will die,” (277). When Lily finally confronts August to discover the truth about what happens to her mother, the first thing she loses is her “dreamworld”, ‘“I hate her…she wasn’t anything like I thought she was.’ I’d spent my life imagining all the ways she’d love me, what a perfect specimen of a mother she was. And all of it was lies. I had completely made her up,” (252). Before she comes to a revelation about her mother, Lily always pictures her mother as a saint whom she can intercede for, someone who never would leave her child. But with the hard facts August lays on her, Lily feels nothing but anger and hatred for her mother. Apparent is her loss of her affection for her mother. In order to cope with the new sense of abandonment, Lily broods by the riverbed, “mourning” and wishing that she can forget everything and go back to her dreamworld. Eventually, after much thinking, Lily finally accepts the tragedy for her mother and herself. Afterward, with T. Ray gone, the Daughters of Mary adopt her, “…introduce a new queen and the most extravagant change takes place,” (277). With a fully developed view of her past, Lily looks now toward the future, placing her love in trust from her mother towards her new mothers. The way to her mother’s true story is hard to bear for Lily, but in the end, Lily can now rejoice the same way a bee does when it receives a new queen.
The journey of a bee is a very treacherous one. Constantly threatened by many obstacles and predators, one may think a bee’s life impossible. In Lily’s perspective, her pain, suffering, and utter burden cast a shadow over what could be her “happy” life. One must remember that single worker bee cannot survive on its own, just as Lily. However, it is through the community of the hive and the connection to the queen that makes a bee ever so thrive. In a way, Lily would not be able to cope through her loss, burden, and abandonment without the support of her new mothers, the Boatwright sisters, and the experience of her journey similar to the life of a worker bee. Although it takes some time for Lily to find her hive, at least now she has the potential to become her own queen.
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